Wait no more, the Bassmaster Elite Series is officially back! For the first time since 2017, the Elite Series is headed back to famed Lake Okeechobee. Known to be one of the nation’s most prolific big bass factories, Lake Okeechobee is the largest lake in the state of Florida and the 10th largest lake in the United States. While the fishing can be world class at times, it can also present plenty of issues for anglers as the bass constantly change from day to day.
In the process of interviewing several anglers on the Inside Bassmaster Podcast, one thing I gathered was that the expectations are all over the place. The combination of inconsistent water levels, lack of grass in certain areas and the inevitable inconsistent weather has anglers uncertain of what to expect.
There will certainly be a handful of anglers who have breakthrough events at Okeechobee, but my overall Rapala Bassmaster Fantasy Fishing strategy for this event is similar to the strategy I would use for a northern smallmouth event. By that, I mean that I am going to stick with anglers who have a history of success in the state of Florida.
Let’s get into my picks.
BUCKET A: JOHNSTON
Considering the number of anglers in Bucket A that have a proven history of success fishing in Florida, Chris Johnston may seem like an odd pick. However, during his stint fishing the FLW Tour, Johnston fished the south Florida fishery a number of times and notched two top 10s during that time. Despite being known as two of the world’s best smallmouth anglers, both of the Johnston brothers have experienced a great amount of success fishing in the state of Florida early in the year. Look for Chris to start the season off strong.
Solid secondary selection: It’s hard to believe that Drew Cook is sitting below a 10% player percentage in Bucket A considering the location and potential for spawning bass. The Georgia pro hasn’t fished the number of tour level events at Okeechobee as other anglers, but he does have a history of jumping out to a great start early in the season. This event sets up for him to do just that.
BUCKET B: HACKNEY
Typically, when an angler is at a nearly 40% player percentage, I try to stay away from picking that angler, but I just couldn’t justify not rolling with Greg Hackney in Bucket B. The Louisiana pro is well known for being one of the greatest power fishermen to ever live which sets up perfectly at Lake Okeechobee. This is evident in the numbers, as Hackney has finished inside the Top 10 three times at Lake Okeechobee in four B.A.S.S. events. Hackney is another angler that historically starts the Elite Series season off with a bang.
Solid secondary selection: At just under a 7% player percentage, Scott Canterbury could be an excellent pick in Bucket B. Like a few other Elites, Canterbury has plenty of experience fishing the Big O during his FLW Tour days including three top 10 finishes between 2010 and 2018. The 2019 Bassmaster Angler of the Year had a bounce-back season in 2022 and looks to build off of that momentum.
BUCKET C: SCHMITT
If grass is part of the equation, you can bet that Bryan Schmitt is going to be the answer. It’s hard to justify momentum after a six-month offseason, but nobody has more built-up momentum from the end of last season than Schmitt. The Maryland pro has two top 10s at Okeechobee in other pro level events as well. Look for Schmitt to dissect the abundance of grass in the Big O.
Solid secondary selection: It’s entirely possible that I’ll look back at the end of the event and kick myself for not picking Scott Martin on his home body of water. I wouldn’t be surpised one bit if that ends up being the case, but the near 70% player percentage has me feeling like I should take the risk on a lower player percentage like Schmitt.
BUCKET D: CREWS
Considering his up-and-down results at Lake Okeechobee, it’s a little surprising to see John Crews knocking on the door of a 20% player percentage. With that said, Crews has a tendency to start the season off by making a statement like he did last season at the St. Johns River. When it’s gone well for Crews at Lake Okeechobee, it’s gone really well as he has two Top 10 finishes in six B.A.S.S. events. After a disappointing end to the 2022 season, look for Crews to get back on track early in 2023.
Solid secondary selection: Although there will likely be plenty of patterns in play, you can almost always count on true flippers to do well at Lake Okeechobee which is why Matt Herren is a great choice in Bucket D. The Alabama pro doesn’t have great results at the Big O in B.A.S.S. events, but he has finished inside the top 10 in two FLW events.
BUCKET E: LOGAN
After a disappointing 2022 season, expect Wes Logan to bounce back in a big way at Lake Okeechobee. For the same reasons I believe Herren could be a factor, I also believe Logan could get it done. The Alabama pro feels at home with a braided line rod in his hands, and he will have plenty of opportunities to exploit that in south Florida.
Solid secondary selection: Derek Hudnall is another angler that is more than comfortable with a flipping stick in his hands. The Louisiana pro needs to bounce back in 2023 after a down year in 2022, and Lake Okeechobee could be the perfect starting spot for him to get back on track.
Mercury Bassmaster Drain the Lake Challenge
• Cliff Prince
• Scott Martin
• Bradley Hallman
• Koby Kreiger
• Kyle Welcher
• Derek Hudnall
• Bernie Schultz
• Bryan Schmitt